You know, this battle feels a lot different knowing that we won’t see the behind-the-scenes on HBO in a couple of days, doesn’t it? The Winter Classic storylines are over, and Toronto/Detroit returns to being just another new divisional matchup. The implications are heavy, though; a rookie-laden Red Wings roster is trying to claw their way back into the playoff picture, and the Leafs are fighting to hold on to their spot. Unfortunately for the blue and white, this worked out much better for the home team, as the Wings won this one by a score of 3-2.
Detroit was first to strike, midway through the first period. Taking advantage of a failed pass by Phil Kessel, Gustav Nyquist absolutely blew by Cody Franson and Tim Gleason, fired a shot on goal, and while James Reimer got a piece of it, the puck trickled him behind him.
From this point on, the two teams split control of the game, trading scoring chances and testing both goalies heavily. The Leafs made it particularly hard on themselves, giving up the next three penalties (including a boarding call to Gleason which could have been one of five or six penalties on the shift). They managed to hold on, however, until Nyquist struck again, two minutes into the third period. This time, Paul Ranger was out of position, and Morgan Rielly wasn’t able to catch up.
The Leafs began to show some life soon afterwards. On their third man advantage of the game, Rielly fired a puck down the ice, Jake Gardiner beat out the icing, and then beat Jimmy Howard to close the gap. The game was briefly tied a couple minutes later on another play instigated by Gardiner, but it was correctly ruled that Nazem Kadri kicked the puck hard enough to make Jermain Defoe blush.
With two and a half minutes to go, David Legwand and Daniel Alfredsson found themselves on a 2-on-1 rush. Cody Franson attempted to block Legwand’s pass, but it went under his stick and the lead was promptly widened. With the Reimer on the bench, the Leafs poured it on, even scoring a goal courtesy of James van Riemsdyk, but couldn’t get the second one to send the game to OT and took the loss instead.
Why The Leafs Lost
A few things.
- For once, it’s not a possession thing. While the Wings jumped ahead about eight minutes in and never looked back, the Leafs kept things pretty close throughout and ended up with 49.4% of the attempted shots. Not horrible.
- Pretty much every defenceman seemed to be too far up and slow to get back, and not making the right decisions when if they made it. Franson and Gleason in particular had bad nights.
- I don’t blame Phil Kessel for not scoring. It happens, and he was generating offence, but it’s not often that he attempts 10 shots and doesn’t get anything out of it whatsoever. This is now his longest stretch of the year without a point (4 games).
- Why was Jay McClement out for the final couple of offensive faceoffs? He may be slightly better at the draw throughout the year, but he’s the team’s worst offensive centre, and was 6 for 17 going into the final minutes. He lost one, and won the other one as far away from hims teammates as possible. The difference between a 55% and 45% draw man is about a draw a game; always put out your top offensive guy, especially when the specialist is having a bad night.
- James Reimer deserves more credit for the night. Yes, he let in three, but he still made 30 saves, and let’s be real, two goals were on breakaways and the third one was a 2 on 1. They were all high percentage goals.
- Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly were probably the best positionally of the defencemen tonight, and were very solid in the offensive zone during the third period.
- Dion Phaneuf gets warrior status not necessarily for his play, but for the fact that he appeared to be hurt, but stayed in the game. He’s been doing this for about ten games now and probably should take some off, but with no guarantees of playoffs just yet, I doubt that happens.